Kevin Cooper was an outdoor enthusiast, farmer, homeschooler, entrepreneur, author, and an advocate for regenerative agriculture and water conservation. He started a business, remodeled a house, bought a ranch, and penned his autobiography while homeschooling himself and working his land in southern Utah – all before he turned 15!
Tragically, the ambitious 14-year-old drowned in a kayaking accident on June 11, 2022. The teen was kayaking in the Newcastle Reservoir near Beryl, Utah, with his autistic older brother, 17. It’s unclear exactly how Kevin fell out of the kayak but his family told local media that he couldn’t swim.
Stefanie Whitelaw, a close friend and neighbor, said that the family wants to keep their older son’s identity private. She claimed the Cooper brothers were not risk-takers. The teens were under the supervision of another family that had been hosting a birthday party at the time of the accident. Kevin’s parents were not present.
“What [the older brother] told me is they were racing and I guess they were turning around,” Whitelaw told Cedar City News. “Kevin’s kayak tipped or capsized and Kevin went in. [The brother] tried to get Kevin out of the water. I’m guessing that’s when people heard anything, it was [him] trying to get his brother out of the water.”
Despite his brother’s efforts, Cooper went under and never resurfaced. His body was recovered by a dive team on June 12. Just weeks before his death, the teen had self-published an autobiographical book under the pseudonym Cole Summers that is for sale on Amazon. It is titled Don’t Tell Me I Can’t: An Ambitious Homeschooler’s Journey.
Don’t Tell Me I Can’t
In his autobiography, Kevin Cooper (aka Cole Summers) revealed how he started his own business breeding rabbits and selling them for meat at age 7. At age 8, he got his first truck through a trade with a neighbor—and learned how to repair it by watching YouTube videos. At age 9, he bought a 350-acre ranch for $130 per acre to expand his business into breeding meat goats. At age 10, he bought a small house, which he then renovated—again, he learned how to do it by watching videos online.
Kevin was basically the sole keeper of the land where he lived with his disabled parents and brother. His father, a disabled veteran, is in a wheelchair, and his mother is blind. Kevin, the only person in his family without a disability, was planning to support his autistic brother when they grew up.
In just 14 years, Kevin was able to accomplish more than most other people do in a lifetime. After his death, Kevin’s parents wrote on his Facebook page, “There was never such a thing as ‘work’ for Kevin. Every project was like a kid playing with Tonka toys or Lincoln Logs, just on a full sized scale. That’s how he achieved so much. Everything was play.”
Kevin attracted thousands of fans on social media who he inspired with his extraordinarily enterprising young mind. One of them, Willow Liana, wrote:
“There are lots of ambitious people in the world, but few of them have pure hearts. Kevin’s was pure. He had a heart of gold. He was constantly thinking of his family, how he could take care of people, animals, and the earth, and how to accomplish the things he needed to. He knew that his ambition was necessary to secure the thing he cared about most – a livable future in his desert home in Utah.”
Kevin Cooper’s story was so amazing and arguably unbelievable, that he actually posted a Twitter video insisting he was real and was everything he claimed to be online.
“Not everybody thinks I am me, so here I am! I really am a 14-year-old homeschooler,” he said in the video. “I’ve been studying business since I was six. I started my first business when I was seven.”
“I really do spend all my time trying to work toward changing the business model of desert farming to quickly stop aquifer depletion while keeping thousands of acres from being turned into dust bowl farmlands.”
“I really am me. I’m out here,” he concluded. “I am who I say I am.”
Among those who came across the teen on social media was journalist Bari Weiss, who contacted Kevin (aka Cole) about writing a piece for her newsletter Common Sense. His article was published shortly after he died. You can read it here, along with Weiss’ commentary.
She wrote, in part: “In his short life, Cole managed to cultivate two qualities that are rare even among most adults. He was at home in the real, physical world and he took great pleasure in it. And: he was completely unafraid to try.”
Learning in Freedom
In his article, Kevin Cooper (aka Cole Summers) described how he began homeschooling because both of his parents were disabled and “them being homebound enabled us to try it.”
The teen wrote that his parents allowed him the freedom to choose the path he took with his education, as long as he learned how to read and write.
“I’m part of a side movement within the homeschool movement called unschooling,” he penned. “I have been since I was six.”
“Unschooling is simple: the kid chooses what to learn, when to learn it, and at what pace,” he explained, noting that he actually started unschooling after being inspired by billionaire Warren Buffett.
“I started unschooling specifically because I started watching videos of Warren Buffett on YouTube at my father’s suggestion after I asked him, ‘Daddy, how do people get rich?”’ Cooper said.
“I was fascinated by Mr. Buffet’s teachings about how he uses the process of elimination in his decision-making. I guess I was an odd six-year-old.”
“At that time, my parents were trying to copy public school curricula. I asked if I could make studying people like Buffett my school instead, and they said yes.”
Cooper argued that unschooling “provides a level of freedom that many adults don’t even enjoy.”
“When I took control of my education, my parents only had one rule: I had to do at least some of my learning by reading. Everything else was up to me,” he wrote.
Kevin Cooper said that unschooling gave him the ability to focus his studies, as early as first grade, on business, which he claims “made me want to start my own business.”
The teen explained that he decided to start a farm because it seemed like an obvious choice, given where he lived in Utah.
“Even though the farm was small, my dad had the idea to treat it like I was doing a tech startup. This wasn’t about ambition. Treating my tiny farm like a startup allowed me to learn about business and what it takes to run a real company,” he wrote.
“Running the farm as a corporation motivated me, and led to me buying and flipping a house when I was ten and, eventually, expanding my farm to a 350-acre ranch.”
Kevin also shared how he felt badly for children his age who are educated in the public school system, citing how many of his peers suffer from mental health problems and anxiety.
“When I read articles about other teens struggling with anxiety because of all the stresses they believe only politicians can solve, like climate change, it makes me sad for them,” he wrote.
The teen argued that his peers are capable at being successful if given the necessary support systems, but are often met with pushback from the adults in their lives.
“I’ve heard adults tell them that they can’t do something because they’re ‘just a kid.’ I’ve watched them want to try something and be told no ‘because I said so.’ And there’s always the ‘kids these days’ insult,” he explained.
“It isn’t that my generation isn’t capable. We just need the freedom, encouragement, and empowerment to show what we can do.”
Stefanie Whitelaw has organized a GoFundMe to support Kevin Cooper’s family. She is asking for donations to help the grieving family pay for his funeral and to keep the farm running in his absence.
“The family now must deal with a loss of VA disability dependent income, picking up some of the bills for Kevin’s businesses, legal and accounting fees for shutting down the business, all while also facing typical end of life expenses and helping their surviving son through this tragedy,” said Whitelaw.
“The Cooper family must now rebuild their lives, focused on providing for their surviving son a future that Kevin will no longer be able to give him.”
“All donations will help the Cooper family put their young son to rest and provide for the needs of their devastated other son.”
Actress Mayim Bialik donated $5,000 to the family’s fundraiser! Someone should tell Warren Buffett how much Kevin Cooper looked up to him; maybe he would make a generous donation.
“Kevin was a giant in the making. He would have accomplished feats on a geographic scale, like reversing the disappearance of the Great Basin Desert’s supplying aquifer.”
Kevin’s family revealed on Twitter that they will have to shut down his ranch because “it’s way more than we can keep up with.” The property is currently for sale with ERA Realty of Southern Utah. Jennifer Davis is the listing agent.
“Ideally, we hope it remains a regenerative-focused farm, becomes a wildlife preserve, or possibly a youth camp to help teach and inspire other kids to take hands-on environmental action.”
The family is going to keep a few of Kevin’s animals as pets. They are actively searching for another farm that’s better suited for their autistic son. Hopefully it will be a place where he will be able to keep doing what he loves most in life which is caring for the land, animals, and nature, continuing to follow his brother’s example.
Several community members have offered to help with some of the Kevin’s other projects, including his effort to salvage barn wood. They are also looking at ways to keep the teen’s legacy alive, including turning a collection of audio recordings saved to his computer into an audiobook.
Kevin had completed ten short children’s stories to help teach other kids his favorite financial and business skills. They need only to be illustrated and published. “We’re going to start searching for a new illustrator for his children’s stories after his memorial. I have all the files for it,” his father tweeted.
According to his dad, Kevin was also in the process of writing a third book titled Entrepreneurial Unschooling. “I found a lot of his notes for on a shared drive. Already working on that a little bit.”
The family is looking into setting up a fund or scholarship program focused on youth in environmentally-focused business development.
Sales of Kevin’s book and any further donations will be dedicated to these projects.
More info about continuing Kevin’s work and legacy will be posted on his Twitter page @thecolesummers, and on his Facebook page, facebook.com/HomeschoolMBA.
If you want to learn more about Kevin Cooper and his accomplishments, order his book called Don’t Tell Me I Can’t: An Ambitious Homeschooler’s Journey, here.